Offbeat Clubs

There's a club or two for all Tucsonans, from prospective prospectors to people named Lois

From a chapter of the American Needlepoint Guild to the local Zoological Society, hundreds of groups exist in Tucson, devoted to everything from the artistic use of gourds to pitching horseshoes.

Some of these clubs you've heard of. Some, you probably haven't.

The Weekly decided to profile several of the more offbeat groups from this long list of local clubs; this effort required meeting people at various locations all over town, from a December party on the city's far northwest side to a Disabled American Veterans post next to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The hobbies and interests of those interviewed ran the gamut, but it was particularly interesting to note the large number of desert dwellers interested in water-based activities.

Whatever their pastime pursuits, the members of these varied clubs have one thing in common--a large dose of the American passion for getting involved.

Gold Prospectors Association of Tucson

Shouting to be heard above the din created by more than 120 participants at the group's December gathering, "Big John" Duhanich explained the process of panning for gold. Holding up a rare, quarter-ounce nugget along with small containers of more common (yet still precious) dust, he proudly proclaimed: "People know I find gold!"

While silver and copper are Southern Arizona's traditionally mined metals, gold has been sought around Tucson for centuries. Today, focusing mostly in the cool Santa Rita Mountains in the summer and near the small community of Arivaca in the wintertime, Duhanich concentrates his searches in one of the numerous claims utilized by the club. Using history, science and some intuition, he narrows his quest to specific spots along promising dry streambeds.

"The hardest part is finding a place to dig," Duhanich says. "You need to do lots of armchair research," such as looking over maps and paperwork from companies that worked the claims many years ago. "You need to find gold where it was found before."

While Duhanich calls the background-checking process simple, it doesn't always succeed. "You can dig where you think it should be, but it won't be there," he says. "But when you find a good spot, you stick with it."

Once he has located a site where rushing water from a monsoon may have deposited the metal, the 55-year-old shovels river rock into a dry washer hooked up to a battery. It screens the debris, and Duhanich then uses a little water to swirl the remains in a pan. Because it is so heavy, gold will stay at the bottom.

"It's peaceful, soothing solitude," he says, adding that he pans for gold up to four times a month. "There is no traffic, and you're in pretty surroundings. It's great to be out there."

Some of the nuggets Duhanich finds are used for jewelry, but he keeps the gold dust, occasionally trading it to others for equipment.

Many members of the family-oriented Gold Prospectors Association of Tucson (whose motto is "Gold--We Dig It!") go searching together in large groups, but Duhanich usually takes along only a single partner. "A lot of them call me a tyrant," he laughs, "but we're out to get gold, buddy."

Bitten by the gold bug for the past 25 years, Duhanich offers demonstrations to those interested. Smiling widely, he says, "I like to get out there and infect everybody with the fever. Once you see that flash in the pan, you're pretty much hooked. This is a lot of fun."

Meetings are held at 7 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at the Disabled American Veterans building, 3455 S. Wilmot Road. For more information, contact "Big John" Duhanich at 299-7536. He will also be happy to arrange a gold-panning demonstration, but needs a month's notice. Joining the Tucson group is free, but members should belong to the Gold Prospectors Association of America, which charges an initial fee of $79.50.

Lois Club

Chuckling at the memory, Lois Pawlak recalls attending a nationwide gathering of the organization in Las Vegas. While wearing a club button, one member was asked, "What does 'L.O.I.S.' stand for?"

"Look Out, I'm Sexy," was the tongue-in-cheek reply.

"No one can spell it (Lois)," says Pawlak, laughing. "They try 'Louis,' or 'Lewis,' or even 'Louise.' Eight or nine out of 10 people can't spell 'Lois.'

"It's one of those dying names," Pawlak continues, "and most everyone in the club is in their 60s or 70s. At 47, I'm the youngest person who goes, and one of the only ones who works. It's a great thing for old people, and it's kind of like being in a sorority."

The most famous Lois--comic book, TV and movie celebrity Lois Lane--isn't even a real person. As Pawlak says, "There are just not a lot of them out there."

The U.S. government confirms that assertion for newborns. As the Social Security Administration somewhat coldly announces, "The name Lois is not among the top 1,000 female names for (the) years 1990-2003."

Founded in Minnesota in 1979, the Lois Club has held national conventions since 1995; the next one is scheduled for Tampa, Fla. There are also groups in Canada and England, and one British woman, describing her young daughter, wrote, "Having traits common with other Loises, she is a feisty and determined young lady, very charming and very irresistible."

While the U.S. club is almost exclusively female, there was a notable exception. One oddly named Midwestern gentlemen did join the organization, and "everyone wanted to sit next to him at the chapter luncheons," Pawlak gushes.

The local chapter, one of about 25 in the United States, started in 1991 and now has approximately 45 members, each of whom must carry the first or middle name of Lois. They meet for lunch several times each year, and no guests--other than those named Lois--are allowed.

"There is no agenda for the meetings, and no one has a title," Pawlak says. "We just talk with each other. We're not cliquish, but everybody is pretty boisterous and they all like each other."

Before she attended her first meeting in 1992, Pawlak was a little intimidated. "I felt it would be ridiculous," she remembers. "But everybody is really nice. Newcomers don't feel weird when they come, because they already know everyone's name."

Among the club's memorabilia are buttons reading "Lois Common Denominator," along with "Lois" notepads and a membership card with the first name already filled in. In addition, the Tucson chapter has a distinctive logo featuring a brown "L" in the shape of a cowboy boot, a tan "O" shaped like a rope, a green "I" shaped like a saguaro and a yellow "S" twisted into a snake.

While local and national club members encourage new parents to name their daughters Lois, they don't have much success. "People laugh at that suggestion," Pawlak says, "so we take up collections for anyone who will do it. One kid got $150 for being named Lois."

The Lois Club of Tucson meets at various restaurants for lunch on the fifth Tuesday of any month that has a fifth Tuesday; the next meeting is scheduled for March 29. There are no dues, but $5 is requested to cover mailing costs. The club will also hold a special outing at the Gaslight Theater Wednesday, Feb. 9. For more information, contact Lois Pawlak at 325-7611.

Southern Arizona Koi Association

Smoothly gliding through the water of a large backyard pond, a koi--to an uninformed observer--may simply look like a carp. But this is a fish of many different colors.

Comprised of 13 species that range from the showa sanke, which has red and white scales fluttering along a smooth black body, to the shimmering gold or platinum hues of the ogon, the koi has a storied history. Believed to have originated from Japanese carp breeding in the late 1700s, koi of light blue and yellow tints had been developed by the latter part of the next century.

In Tucson, the tradition of raising, improving, caring for and judging koi while encouraging pond-building is carried on by an 85-member organization.

"We're one of only four clubs in the entire nation with 25 consecutive annual shows," proclaims Debbie Shaw, the membership chair for the Southern Arizona Koi Association. "At a show, the fish are judged by their size, color and patterns."

"In addition to the 13 species," adds Debby Young, the group's representative to the Associated Koi Clubs of America, "there are 120 varieties. There is a big difference between pond fish and show fish."

"A good pond fish," Young says, are koi that weigh between one and 20 pounds, and "can live for 200 years. But in captivity, they average between 20 and 60 years."

"Having koi is the same as raising horses or dogs," says Shaw. "It's very relaxing."

In addition to promoting their hobby, the club also holds an annual pond tour in May, which shows off numerous backyard ponds around town. Shaw suggests that anyone interested in building a pond take the tour first.

"No one builds them right the first time," she exclaims, "because there is a big difference between a water garden and a koi pond."

While an average koi pond contains between 1,100 and 2,000 gallons of water, some can be 10 times that size. And Tucson's water requires additional filtration, just like an aquarium, Young says.

The club's newsletter also offers advice on raising koi. A recent issue suggests feeding the fish twice a day in the wintertime, when the water temperature dips below 70 degrees; feeding just once a day when it falls under 60; and not at all if it reaches 50 degrees. "I promise they will not starve," the author pledges.

The yearly pond tour of the Southern Arizona Koi Association will be held May 7-8, and the annual show will take place Nov. 11-13. To find out more about the organization, which meets regularly and has annual dues of $25, contact Debbie Shaw at 275-4510 or log on to

Socrates Saturday Morning Forum

Sporting a bushy white beard and a festive Santa cap along with a red UA sweatshirt, Phil White calls a December meeting of the group to order promptly at 8:30 a.m. The question on the table is, "Does humanity tend to miss the true Baby (Divinity inhabiting human form) in the bath water (religion--humanity's efforts to connect with Divinity)?"

"Let's talk about us here instead of them out there," White says to the16 participants sitting around a large table littered with coffee cups and a copy of Socrates Cafe. "How does the question apply to us?"

Over the next 90 minutes, the conversation among the group--only one of whose members is less than 50 years of age--sometimes drifts and is often disjointed. A few times it even pulls toward the political, but without ever going over an unseen barrier of naming names.

Unlike the previous meeting's topic--simply, "Is America insane?"--almost everyone is having difficulty getting a firm grip on the question.

Rahmat (the group uses first names only), asks, "Are we talking about Christmas?" Another participant speaks up to label celebrations throughout life as "hatching" (birth), "matching" (marriage) and "dispatching" (death). Although someone offers the view that a sign of maturity is when a person questions their own beliefs, Herb explains his view of life succinctly: "Have spaghetti with tomato sauce and chocolate pudding," he suggests. "That's a belief system that makes sense."

Well into the generally well-behaved session, Rahmat concludes, "This has been my least productive hour here. There is no one in charge. It just goes its own way."

Others, however, say they liked the free-flowing format and look forward to returning. "I come here to understand how people are seeing things," one of them says, while Ben, the youngest participant adds, "I like the conversation." An attendee named Ruth says, "I learn from what other people experience."

While everyone has a chance to speak at the beginning and end of the session, a few people dominate the conversation on this particular Saturday. Participants are encouraged to listen, think and speak while using the Socratic method of asking a lot of questions, but they are told to avoid "GAS," or "God Almighty Statements."

Begun only a few months ago, this Socrates forum, named after the fourth century B.C. philosopher of Athens, is the second in town. According to White, it started with 10 participants and has been slowly growing.

"I wanted to provide a forum for people interested in talking about philosophical subjects," he says. "Each week, (the conversation) takes on a life of its own."

Anyone can participate in the free forum, which meets at 8:30 a.m. on the first, third and fifth Saturday of each month at Bruegger's Bagel Bakery, 1064 N. Campbell Ave.; the next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 29. For more information, contact Phil White at 790-4443 or

Southern Arizona Paddlers' Club

With the Santa Cruz River usually as dry as a well-made martini, what can a canoeing or kayaking enthusiast do around here? Quite a bit, according to Chip Arnberg, vice president of the risqué-sounding Southern Arizona Paddlers' Club.

"There is a lot more boating going on than people know about," Arnberg says. "The Colorado River can be run all the way from the Grand Canyon to Yuma, and in springtime, the Gila River is available. Plus, the Salt River offers whitewater opportunities."

Arnberg describes the club members as having a little more gray hair than not, and says the 40-member group has existed for 15 years and is devoted to muscle-powered boating. He adds that those who attend their meetings hear presentations from knowledgeable speakers as well as discuss both past and upcoming trips. The group is looking for additional members, he emphasizes, because, "The more people we have, the more there will be on the trips, and the more fun we'll have."

"We regard ourselves as a networking club," states an organization fact sheet. "We do not have official 'events'; we provide our members the opportunity to meet and interact with like-minded paddlers so they may share time on the water together." In addition, Arnberg says, "Twice a year, we do conduct a cleanup of Patagonia Lake.

"We don't train people," Arnberg adds, in reference to the club's river outings, "but if the trip is gentle, (novices) will get along. Flat water doesn't require experience."

With about 12 boating events offered to members each year, opportunities range from short excursions to much longer ones. The canoes and kayaks go with all provisions self-contained, and toilet facilities are also sometimes available.

In February of last year, four boats from the club went 12 miles down the Colorado River on an overnight trip from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach. In March, group members took nine kayaks on a three-day cruise along the Gila River, camping along the way. "It was pretty smooth water," Arnberg remembers, as he shows off digital pictures of that and other scenic journeys.

Arnberg nostalgically recalls one nine-day journey that he and other club members took on Lake Powell. "At sunset on the last evening, we were having cocoa, salted almonds and vegetable curry. You don't suffer on these trips."

Meetings take place at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every other month except January though March, during which the club meets monthly. The Southern Arizona Paddlers' Club meets in the Arizona Game and Fish Building located at 555 N. Greasewood Road; annual dues are $15 per year. For more information, contact Chip Arnberg at 296-2111.

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